By Troy Eller English, Society of Women Engineers Archivist
While its founders may not have envisioned the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) as an international organization, it did not take long for international members to find SWE. Even before the Society had a section west of the Mississippi River, in 1952 Josephine Lovett of Montreal became the Society’s first member with a foreign address. Early on, most international members discovered SWE while studying or working in the United States.
The December 1954 issue of the SWE Newsletter introduced its three European members from Finland, France, and Italy. The member from Italy, Anna Amour, joined SWE in 1953 while pursuing a master’s degree at New York University. Two years later she co-founded the Italian Association of Women Engineers and Architects after receiving advice from Beatrice Hicks, SWE’s first president.
Friendships endured after international members returned to their home countries, and their letters often included open invitations for home-hosting when American SWE members traveled abroad. Several international members maintained such a strong and enduring connection with SWE that they were later named Fellows of the Society, including Amour, Jacqueline Juillard of Switzerland, and Isabel Hardwich, a past president of the Women’s Engineering Society in Great Britain.
SWE soon developed a global mindset, witnessed in 1964 when it hosted the First International Conference of Women Engineers and Scientists, which drew 529 women engineers and scientists and 125 guests from 35 countries. The June 26, 1964 issue of the Times Herald Record (N.Y.) highlighted the conference hosted by SWE as a channel to bring nations together. The article featured attendees from around the globe, including Martha Stromme (Norway), Constance Arregger (England), Mahin Rahmani (Iran), Helene Sevenier (France), Sophia Portella (Brazil), Dr. Katsuko Sarubashi (Japan), and Raja Malhis (Syria).
More recently, SWE established an International Member Team in FY09, international affiliates in FY15, and has developed partnerships with sister organizations such as the Association of Professional Women Engineers of Nigeria and Japan Women’s Innovative Network.
The Society continues to convene professional development events and WE Local conferences in countries from India to Germany to Brazil. In the Fall 2014 issue of SWE Magazine, SWE President Elizabeth Bierman reflected on the Society's growing international presence, noting, "the impact we can make globally is just starting to become apparent. Professional development programming and advocacy are the drivers of global growth and member satisfaction. You will continue to see outstanding professional development through SWE Advance. Advocacy will focus on how we can empower our members to advance the mission of SWE not only in industry today, but also for the next generation.”